More than two decades on from the Bottle Rockets’ debut album, Brian Henneman is still the best and most articulate working stiff in rock & roll, a songwriter who can speak for the regular guy who punches a time clock with greater honesty and understanding than practically anyone who professes to be The Voice Of The People. (Bruce Springsteen certainly means well, but when was the last time he actually had to think about coming up with the rent money?) The Bottle Rockets’ tenth studio album, 2015’s South Broadway Athletic Club, not only attests that Henneman’s lyrical voice rings as true as ever, it’s an excellent example of Grown Up Rock & Roll, unforced but passionate country-influenced rock that both musically and lyrically speaks of a richly lived life and the challenges of making one’s way in a world filled with both victories and defeats.
The Bottle Rockets understand a world where Monday’s shadow always seems to be lurking around the corner, sloth is sometimes not born of laziness but the reward at the end of a punishing week, love is hard work whether it goes good or bad, and sometimes surviving to another day is the most you can ask out of life. The rough edges of Henneman’s voice are made to order for this batch of songs, and he and his bandmates — John Horton on guitars, Keith Voegele on bass, and Mark Ortmann on drums — rock with a little less muscle than they did in the ’90s, but with the same no-nonsense melodic punch and six-string swagger that marked their classic era. Even the album’s one lyrical misstep — “Building Chryslers,” a number about a lackadaisical auto worker that seems like an artifact from another era when the auto industry was still strong enough to support overpaid slackers, hardly the case in the 21st century — is filled with enough passion to connect, and the long ride out contains some of the album’s most satisfying guitar fireworks.
South Broadway Athletic Club seems like a typical Bottle Rockets album on the surface, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll find a set of songs as strong and emotionally powerful as anything this band has delivered since 24 Hours a Day, and if you need to be reminded that this is one of America’s best and most underappreciated rock bands, spin this once and see if you don’t feel like spinning it again right away.